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de Blasio’s landslide election put this promising idea at the top of Albany’s must-do list, which is a fine thing.
But he and others are now exploiting the political momentum behind pre-K to pursue agendas that have nothing to do with early education — whether it’s redistributing wealth, flexing muscles, currying favor or just getting reelected.
And as they do so, they’re using the 4- and 5-year-olds they claim to care so much about as pawns in a political game.
De Blasio set the pattern by artificially yoking his pre-K proposal to a temporary tax hike on city residents making $500,000 or more.
As a campaign strategy, it worked brilliantly. He was the guy who wanted to take from the rich to give to poor children — a message that hit a sweet spot with voters.
Policywise, however, a tax that goes away after five years — as de Blasio proposes — makes no sense as a way of financing a permanent expansion of public education.
Plus, he doesn’t really need the money. According to the Independent Budget Office, the city is currently running a $2.4 billion surplus and is on track to be $1.9 billion in the black next year.
Hiking taxes became even less necessary when Gov. Cuomo declared that Albany would pick up he entire pre-K tab — not just in New York City, but across the state. But de Blasio turned up his nose at this extraordinarily generous offer — claiming the sum the governor’s offering is insufficient and suggesting that his way, and only his way, “will serve the best interests of the children tof our city.”
His argument that he needs the dedicated tax to provide “stable, consistent, reliable” funding for pre-K doesn’t hold water, though. Taxes on the wealthy are especially unreliable and inconsistent, because they fluctuate with the ups and downs of the economy.
All of which suggests that he wants to tax the rich for its own sake — and pre-K is a useful means to that end.
The motives behind Cuomo’s sudden zeal on the issue are transparent as well.
De Blasio’s pre-K plan put the governor in a tight spot: Going along would violate Cuomo’s pledge against tax hikes, but opposing it would alienate his Democratic base. So he proposed financing pre-K out of the state budget as a way of threading that needle while reasserting his status as the alpha dog of New York politics.
Yet he, too, insists it’s all about the kids.
“I support a statewide system because the children in New York City are precious and so are the children in Buffalo and so are the children in Albany and so are the children in Suffolk,” he said on WNYC. “I’m not going to leave behind the children in any part of this state. That is not going to happen. And no one should want it to happen.”
It was a clever bit of rhetorical jiu-jitsu , bludgeoning de Blasio with his own “tale of two cities” rhetoric. In truth, nothing about de Blasio’s plan would in any way deny pre-K to children in Buffalo, Albany or Suffolk.
Still, local politicians across the state — eager to be on the good side of a powerful governor — rushed to parrot his disingenuous argument.
“Every single child deserves early education, regardless of which ZIP code they were born in, or how many millionaires there are in their community to foot the bill,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
“New York is one state, and we should serve every child in it, no matter what city they live in,” Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano weighed in.
Also stepping forward as supposed champions of children were three state senators who declared themselves “deeply offended by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent assertion that the children in New York City are more deserving and more in need of early childhood education than the 4- and 5-year-olds in the communities we represent.” That was the joint statement by John Flanagan of Long Island, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse and Joe Robach of Rochester — members of a Senate GOP caucus that has not previously made a priority of pre-K, universal or otherwise.
Portraying New York City’s mayor as a money-grabbing bogeyman is a convenient way of pandering to their constituents in an election year.
Let’s stipulate that all of these elected officials are, behind their political posturing, decent human beings who care about children. All or most of them will wind up supporting whatever compromise pre-K plan results from this kabuki show — which, hopefully, will do good things for kids.
In the meantime, all of them should give the holier-than-thou rhetoric a rest.